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Saturday, January 5, 2008

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

What can you say about a movie that is deemed to be among the greatest movies ever made, and that is one of the few movies to win the top 5 Oscars (more on that later). It is also another of the movies where the original author, on whose novel the movie is based, finally has a dispute with the released movie. In this case, the movie was based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Ken Kesey. Ken was so incensed over a dispute over financial rights that he promised to never see the movie, and so it happened.
The final actors and actresses who played key roles in the movie were not the final choices either. Both Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher were not the first choices for their roles, with more leading stars being proposed, but eventually these two were the final choices, and both went onto win Oscars for their portrayals. The movie itself got great critical acclaim, with most reviewers at the time of release giving a fair amount of praise. And over a period of time, the movie got rated upwards, being deemed among the greatest movies of all times.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

The movie was the first movie after It Happened one Night (1934) to win the 5 leading Oscars, and the same feat was only managed after 16 years by Silence of the Lambs. The Oscars won:
* Best Actor for Jack Nicholson
* Best Actress for Louise Fletcher
* Best Direction for MiloŇ° Forman
* Best Picture
* Best Adapted Screenplay for Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman
The movie was also very successful in terms of earning money, far more than expected out of a movie shot in a hospital (and starring the leading man as a person trying to over-turn the dictatorial head of a mental institution who eventually dies). Shot on a budget of approx $ 4 million, the movie earned more than $ 300 million worldwide.
The movie centers on the conflict between a patient at a mental hospital McMurphy (Jack Nocholson), and the element of authority, the supervisory nurse Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). McMurphy is the anti-authoritarian fighter, unwilling to accept authority and repression while the nurse represents the worst of state authority; ultimately the conflict is settled in the nurse's favor when McMurphy goes down fighting. The movie, by Czech Director Milos Forman, could also be seen as a representation of the ongoing conflict between Soviet repression and the urge of the people under their yoke to be free, or die fighting.
McMurphy is a 38 year person having seen frequent conflict with the law, and sentenced to a prison sentence for statutory rape. He is sent to a mental hospital for evaluation due to his frequent defiance of authority; he sees the mental hospital as a place that will be much lighter for serving the sentence, rather than in the labour work farm where he was imprisoned. In the prison, he comes against the rule and process oriented Nurse Mildred Ratched. She is bureaucratic and authoritarian, and various patients in the hospital all suffer under her repression. Some of the main other characters are:
* The silent, huge and towering Indian giant "Chief" Bromden, aka "Broom" (Creek Indian Will Sampson in his film debut) (who pretends to be dumb as his way of dealing with the repression of the nurse)
* The pathetic, incessantly stuttering, paranoid boychild, thirty-year old Billy Bibbit (Brad Dourif in his film debut)
* The short, smiling Martini (Danny De Vito in one of his earliest roles) with an immature personality
* An ineffectual, rationalizing intellectual Dale Harding (William Redfield) - suffering from his wife's betrayal
McMurphy starts trying to bring some change in to the lives of the inmates, starting them to play basketball, card games, and many mind games over trying to get permission to watch the opener of the 1963 World Series baseball game (including getting the patients to vote on a change of their schedule so that the game can be watched). He keeps on trying to enthuse the patients, to get them to rise against the repressive authority with which their lives are being run, and constantly tries to be one-up against the nurse.
He starts getting traction, with the patients starting to respond back, to question things more, and use their own independent will. In a breakout, they manage to commander the bus and go for a fishing trip after McMurphy manages to convince the charter boat manager that they are all doctors of the mental hospital, but when they get back, the police are waiting for them. Nurse Ratched is even more determined to keep McMurphy and break him.
She gets a chance when disobedience breaks out, and McMurphy and others assault a guard. They are shackled and then taken for electro-shock treatment, but soon comes back to his normal state and starts planning an escape; this is going to be final chapter of his story in the mental hospital. He plans a party in the hospital (against all rules), and gets his 2 girl-friends Candy and Rose to enter the hospital as part of a wild drinking party. After Billy expresses a desire, McMurphy gets Candy to sleep with Billy so that he can finally get rid of his virginity.
The next morning, all hell breaks lose. In the wild drinking party, McMurphy could have escaped, but choose not to. Nurse Ratched, desiring to re-establish authority, starts with Billy and gets him severely guilt-stricken over his conduct (after using his feelings regarding his authoritarian mother), enough that he starts stammering again, and then cuts his throat. McMurphy then loses control, and tries to throttle Nurse Ratched, at which point he is led away and then, it happens. In order to cut his anti-authority tendencies, he is lobotomized, and returns to the ward as a shell of his former self. His friend, the gentle giant, Bromden realizes what has happened, and liberates McMurphy by smothering him to death with his pillow. He finally realizes McMurphy's dream by escaping from the hospital, but not the other inmates.

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